Vegalta Sendai vs Gamba Osaka
2021 J1 Season Round 5
Yurtec Stadium, Sendai
Tuesday 3 August
Kick Off: 19:00 (JST)
Gamba Osaka, J1’s best away side in 2020, come into this tie at Vegalta Sendai looking for a fourth road win of the year in what is a crucial clash for both teams. A Nerazzurri triumph would draw them level with faltering city rivals Cerezo and perhaps more crucially put them 9 points ahead of Tuesday night’s hosts, Sendai.
A bruising 2-0 victory away to Sapporo on Friday evening came thanks to Shinya Yajima’s first league goal since the opening day of last year, fittingly on his 100th J1 outing, and a second strike in as many games from Leandro Pereira. Wellington Silva earned plaudits for his outstanding attacking endeavours in the opening stanza while captain Genta Miura was the target of some supporter ire for failing to press the referee into a VAR review following poor challenges by both Chanathip and Lucas Fernandes that only resulted in yellow cards being shown.
I mentioned in my preview of the Sapporo game that although Gamba may be tiring due to their intense summer schedule, their opposition on the other hand, would find it tough to gel instantly following a lengthy mid-season break. Sendai last played competitively on July 10th, and in the time they’ve been away, Gamba have racked up 9 points in 5 matches, which has placed Vegalta and their coach Makoto Teguramori under a huge amount of duress. Will Sendai’s fresh, but potentially disjointed troops prevail and pull themselves level with Kashiwa and Tokushima, or can Gamba, rotated and slightly weary, but crucially battle ready, gain the upper hand?
Tale of the Tape
Gamba were able to take advantage of the clear cut opportunities always afforded to Sapporo’s opponents to earn another good xG For score on Friday night. Things are ticking along nicely in that direction and it should be pointed out that despite finishing 2nd last season, they only averaged 1.35 goals for per match, so they don’t have a massive amount of distance to go to reach similar levels this year. In 2020, Patric (9), Ademilson, Usami and Kazuma Watanabe (all 6) combined for 27 league goals while this time round Patric and Pereira (both 4) and Usami (3) are the leading marksmen. The Gamba attack needs a fourth horseman to step up. Can Kazunari Ichimi be the man, or is it time for stage two of the summer recruitment plan to be unveiled?
Sendai’s Yurtec Stadium was something of a fortress in Susumu Watanabe’s final year in charge in 2019, however, the yellow and blues didn’t win a single match at home last year which saw the end of Takashi Kiyama and would have brought the curtain down on Vegalta’s 11 year run in the top flight had it not been for relegation getting scrapped due to Covid. In 2021 they have managed to see off Kashiwa and Oita on home soil and come into this game in a reasonable run of form, losing only 1 of their previous 5 matches in Miyagi, a disappointing 3-2 reverse against Shimizu. Their stats suggest that they concede a high number of good quality chances per game in general, but particularly at home and the Gamba attack, buoyed by recent displays, will be looking to take full advantage.
Head to Head
A pair of completely contrasting results between these two last year that some may label as being ‘classic JLeague.’ Gamba routed Sendai away in September, the only time they netted more than twice in J1 in 2020. Alexandre Guedes opened the scoring for the hosts early on, but Gamba quickly turned the tables thanks to Yuki Yamamoto, making his first J1 start, and Ademilson. Takuma Nishimura then had his first half penalty saved by Masaaki Higashiguchi following a harsh handball decision against Kosuke Onose, and Vegalta were made to pay late on as a result of Shu Kurata’s screamer and Yosuke Ideguchi’s coup de grâce.
Sendai got payback and more at Panasonic Stadium with their first ever league win in Suita coming courtesy of a Shun Nagasawa inspired 4-0 cakewalk. The ex-Gamba hitman, and Sam Robson’s favourite J1 striker bagged a hat-trick before Takahiro Yanagi put the final nail in Gamba’s coffin late on.
Ryu Takao’s ankle injury has thrown the rotation system up in the air as Shoji, Kim and Onose are all due a rest, but at least 2 of the 3 will likely have to start here. As laid out above, getting 3 points from this clash is of vital importance to Gamba whereas Friday night’s home fixture with Yokohama F.Marinos might be seen as something more akin to a free swing and as such I’ve picked as strong a team as possible with rotation taken into account. Players such as Yanagisawa, Ideguchi and Sato could force their way into the eleven if they’ve regained full fitness, but I’m banking on Matsunami sticking with the tried and tested for this one. Patric or Pereira as the lone striker is essentially a 50/50 choice.
Transfer Gossip Update
In my last preview I reported that out-of-favour Kashima full-back Daiki Sugioka could be a possible target for Gamba. However, the Japanese media are now linking him with a loan move to former side Shonan. At the moment I don’t have the names of any credible transfer targets, but I’ll keep you posted if anything crops up.
One player seemingly headed for the Gamba exit door is Tiago Alves, now completely out of the picture due to poor performances and foreigner restrictions. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him in the upper echelons of **cough cough Kofu** J2 sometime soon.
Ryu Takao‘s horror run of injuries continued against Sapporo when a heavy challenge left him with what Gamba supporters will hope is ‘only’ a sprained ankle, it could be much worse though, and don’t expect him back for a few weeks at the very least. Yosuke Ideguchi and Yota Sato were both absent again for the Consadole game and I’m unsure whether it is injury, a general lack of fitness or Covid that is keeping them out. As mentioned last time, Hiroki Fujiharu, Yuya Fukuda, Yuji Ono and Dai Tsukamoto all have leg muscle injuries with no return date yet given. Backup ‘keeper Jun Ichimori and young wing-backs Haruto Shirai and Shin Won-ho are long term casualties.
Predicted Lineups and Stats
It was announced on Saturday (July 31st) that Sendai and Curaçao international winger Quenten Martinus had mutually agree to terminate his contract. Truth be told it didn’t come as much of a surprise as the ex-Marinos and Urawa man has often cut a frustrated figure this year and there were strong rumours that he and kantoku Makoto Teguramori didn’t see eye to eye.
As you can see below, there aren’t exactly a host of household names in this Vegalta lineup, however, that’s not to say they have no talent in their ranks. For instance, on the right flank you’ll find Chihiro Kato (Ryutsu Keizai Univ.) and Takumi Mase (Hannan Univ.), a pair of rookies who’ve quietly impressed in tough circumstances. Jakub Słowik was my pick for J1 goalkeeper of the half season when I was on the J Talk Podcast a few weeks back and the Pole is one of the main reasons why his side have overperformed xG Against at home by almost 0.4 goals per game. Forward Takuma Nishimura has looked like a pale imitation of the player who earned a move to CSKA Moscow back in 2018, but he still poses a threat when in the mood. I’m also intrigued by the loan signing of tall Brazilian striker Felippe Cardoso from Santos, though he’s yet to deliver anything on the field since his quarantine delayed arrival.
Central midfielder Foguinho has missed the past 4 league games for Sendai though I haven’t seen any injury reported. The distinctively bearded Brazilian appeared to have steadied things in the middle of the park for Vegalta, so if fully fit, expect him to start. Despite offloading Martinus, Sendai still have 6 foreigners on their books, so if Foguinho does indeed return then expect either, backup goalie Nedeljko Stojišić (I’m not too sure on the wisdom of using up 2 foreigner spots with goalkeepers) or former captain Simão Mate, currently a shadow of his 2019 self, to make way. Elsewhere veteran winger Kunimitsu Sekiguchi went off injured in Vegalta’s previous outing, a 1-1 draw at home to Sapporo, but I have no details on how serious that knock was.
Predicted Lineup and Stats
Thanks again for reading and enjoy the game whoever you’re supporting!
Vegalta Sendai vs Gamba Osaka